At what point is it best to leave consulting?
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You might – as a lot of people are – be in consulting as a means to an end.
They then step out – generally into ‘industry’, be that a global corporation or a new start-up – and lots (thousands of top-tier consultants worldwide) discover their next global, perm or freelance opportunity having become a movemeon member.
A while later you’re looking up towards the more senior roles and thinking ‘that’s not for me’. Perhaps you want to really ‘own’ a product/P&L/business unit – stepping into more of a ‘doing’ role than an advisory one. Perhaps you’re fed up with the long hours & travel.
Either way, you’ve decided you’re not sticking around forever.
So, what is the right point at which to leave consulting?
At this point, I’d like to say that loads of people love consulting and stay in the industry for a long time – perhaps their whole career. They have a great time and love their work. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s fantastic when people discover a career they enjoy and this scenario is true of a lot of my friends who started with me in consulting and are still there having made Partner.
This article is premised on using consulting as a means to an end.
It is designed to help those people who get in touch with us having made the decision not to stay. It is not designed to make people who stay longer feel like they ought not to have!
Please don’t take what I say now as complete gospel. There will be plenty of people who’ve left consulting at different points to the ones I reason below and gone on to be hugely successful. There is no golden rule or silver bullet so you shouldn’t feel like you’ve got it wrong if you’re not following the path below. This is just a summary of the sentiment we commonly pick up from the 1000s of employers who get in touch to use movemeon. And that summary is that the perfect time to leave is between 21 and 30 months – or more readily stated as just less than 2 years up to 2.5 years or so. You might be looking for the perfect opportunity right through that window.
Why are employers seeking consultants with this level of experience?
Here are the common reasons:
- After about 2 years, you’ve probably developed all the transferable skills that they’re after and that you went into consulting for. So employers see diminishing returns for staying in consulting longer. What do they get from a 3ish year consultants that they can’t get from a 2ish year one?
- Instead, what they want now is genuine industry expertise and the best way to develop that is by working for them. As much of an industry expert as you might think you are thanks to a couple of consulting projects, most consultants who move into industry say that it took them about 1 year to REALLY get to grips with all the detail of the industry and the business.
- You’re affordable. At the more junior levels, consulting salaries generally ramp up faster than industry salaries. The industry then catches up from Manager onwards, particularly thanks to share schemes. So, if you’ve been in consulting for 3-4 years – say to Senior Associate to Junior Manager level – your expectations on salary will be beyond the worth that industry puts on you (thanks to points 1 and 2 above).
If you miss the 2-2.5 year window, it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get a good job outside of consulting.
It does probably mean that you’ll need to adjust your expectations down in terms of salary and responsibility. Simply put, you won’t get offered a job that isn’t also offered to someone in the 2-2.5 year window.
This can apply right up to Manager level
Particularly if you’ve been managing for 6-12 months. Yes, you may have gained managerial experience in consulting. But realistically, because you are not an expert in the detail of their business/industry, employers can’t credibly employ you to step in and manage teams in their business. You’d probably have to come in, with a view to / understanding that you’ll be promoted quickly.
So if you’ve just been promoted to Manager, right now is a good time to be looking (and if you did an MBA, you’re probably in the 2-2.5 year window anyway). If you decide to stay for longer as a Manager, it’s better to do a couple of years and really focus on an industry and/or a function (pricing, sales, supply chain etc). That way you can more credibly move into a Manager level role in that industry and the greater responsibility & salary that comes with it.
But that probably means doing about 5 years total in consulting so make sure you’re prepared to stay for that longer haul! Also, there’s nothing to say that you wouldn’t have reached that level in the industry sooner, had you left consulting in the earlier window (depending on how good your new company is at promoting rising stars).
People often use a spell in consulting to:
- Gain transferable skills;
- Add a good brand to the CV;
- Learn about lots of different industries & functions;
- Work with/for some really smart and senior people;
- Acquire some great training;
- Rack up some air miles on business travel and gain hotel points, etc, etc.
If you’re contemplating leaving consulting we have a number of articles based on insight, stats, and advice that you can find below:
- Which pays best, staying in consulting or leaving?
- 4 invaluable lessons from moving out of consulting
- Where do consultants want to go?
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